Even with the success of “Batman” a year prior, director Bill Bixby had a hard time accumulating the budget and network support for what became the final hurrah for the famed seventies series. Apparently “Death” was supposed to be a vehicle for Iron Man and She-Hulk, but the budget just didn’t allow for it. Not to mention around this time Bill Bixby received the unfortunate news that he had prostate cancer, so “Death” was ultimately a swan song for the series as a whole. It’s a mixed blessing, though, since the budget allows for this final film to give the Hulk what is a bittersweet finale. The movie isn’t at all perfect, and completely meanders in the middle of the film, but overall the final scene paired with the classic theme song is gripping and a great testament to Bill Bixby’s commitment as an actor before his untimely death.
“Death” finds David Banner now working as a janitor at a laboratory, and posing as a disabled man. The laboratory is run by Doctor Ronald Pratt, a kind man who is seeking to build a machine that can heal people through genetic manipulation. Much to his bewilderment, he finds that someone has been sneaking in to lab after hours tinkering with his formulas and helping him develop the machine faster. He soon learns that David Banner has been guiding him and helping him speed his process, filling him in on his curse as the Green Hulk. Meanwhile, a sexy Russian spy (very much in the vein of Black Widow) named Jasmin is pushed in to stealing the plans for the machine by her Russian organization (Hydra?) and big sister. The Russians are competing with the American government to take hold of the machine, as both governments want to use the machine to create a Perfect Soldier, a–Super Soldier, if you will.
Captain America. I’m talking about Captain America.
Either way, soon Jasmin gets a crisis of conscience as she forms a bond with David Banner and they team up to help save Dr. Pratt, who is injured and put in to a coma. When he comes out of it, he’s kidnapped, prompting the pair of rogue heroes to rescue him. As I mentioned, “Death” sags right in the middle as much of the film involves the Russians emphasizing their plans, while Jasmin and David bond, make love, and contemplate a life together. The finale works with the effects it has, but still manages to end as a fairly compelling and heartbreaking end to the saga. It’s also a shockingly prophetic scene involving the Hulk falling out of a helicopter and in to concrete, a scene that would become a signature action sequence in the 2008 reboot with Edward Norton. Bixby’s performance as David is as great as ever, with folks like Elizabeth Gracen and Andreas Katsulas offering very strong supporting performances.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Phillip Sterling as Doctor Pratt, one of the few glimmers of humanity in David’s life sadly tainted by his quest to destroy the hulk, like so many before him. Granted, “The Death of the Incredible Hulk” is not a TV movie masterpiece, but it is competently directed, and so much more compelling than the painfully silly “Return” and the gritty “Trial” which made David Banner a mere supporting character. This is a solid send off for Bixby and his era of the Incredible Hulk.